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Local view: Home-health cuts put state’s seniors at risk

Across our community, seniors and disabled individuals are able to receive quality health care at home thanks to the Medicare home-health benefit. Sadly, Medicare cuts made as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA, have put that care at risk while also jeopardizing valuable health care jobs.

Steep cuts stemming from the ACA slash home health care funding by

14 percent over the next four years. Data show that this new cut would force approximately 40 percent of all home-health providers to operate at a net loss. Agencies directly affected by the cut care for nearly 1.5 million seniors nationwide who will be negatively affected.

These 1.5 million seniors are some of our nation’s most vulnerable patients. Data show that Medicare beneficiaries who receive home-health services are older, poorer and sicker than the rest of the Medicare-beneficiary population.

Home health is prescribed to these vulnerable patients because they require ongoing services following a hospitalization or change in medical condition. In recent years, home health has evolved, allowing for more advanced care and management of complex medical conditions. Home health care provided by skilled nurses and therapists allows patients to recover from illness and improve their overall health status in the comfortable, convenient and cost-effective home setting.

Even without a hospitalization, many primary-care physicians recommend various home health care services in order to keep patients healthy, manage chronic conditions and avoid complications that could send them to emergency rooms or other expensive institutional settings.

And patients, far and away, prefer to receive care in their homes. Without the Medicare home-health benefit, this may not be an option.

In addition to threatening patient care, the Medicare home health cut puts tens of thousands of Minnesota jobs at risk. The federal Medicare agency’s own estimate that 40 percent of agencies would face bankruptcy means this regulation could directly impact nearly 5,000 small-business providers who are responsible for nearly 500,000 jobs from coast to coast. Here in Minnesota, nearly 20,000 health care professionals are employed by the home-health sector, more than 8,000 of whom could be at risk because of this Medicare cut. Estimates indicate that nearly 42 percent of our home-health agencies in Minnesota would be forced to operate at a net loss by 2017.

Already, home-health professionals are losing their jobs as a result. Evidence that the home-health cuts are resulting in job loss came earlier this month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 3,800 home-health jobs were lost in February alone. It was the largest single-month job loss in the sector in more than 10 years.

The administration had the flexibility to not implement significant reductions, yet chose to move forward with implementation despite warnings from lawmakers, senior advocates and small-business leaders that such cuts could limit patient access and lead to job loss.

With an estimated 10,000 Americans becoming Medicare-eligible every day, it is time to encourage the use of home health, which not only reduces Medicare spending through lower-cost care but allows patients to remain at home.

The ACA’s Medicare home-health cuts are a misguided approach for seniors, the nation’s workforce and health care spending. That is why Washington needs to look closely at the 14 percent cut and its overall impact on senior care and jobs — and provide the relief our sector needs to ensure we can continue to provide the quality home-health services more and more Americans demand.

Lisa Jans is a physical therapist serving home-health beneficiaries in Duluth.

Get involved What: Save Home Health news conference

When: 10:30 a.m. today

Where: Northland Medical Building South, 925 E. Superior St., Suite 104

Who: This event is to feature a home-health physician, clinician and family member representing the Minnesota home-health community. Joined by Republican congressional candidate Stewart Mills, they’ll speak out against a 14 percent cut to home-health services under the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

On the web:

* #savehomehealth